It looks like soda. It tastes like soda. But the Swiss soft drink pictured above has a peculiar key ingredient: milk whey. First introduced in the 1950s, Rivella beat out both Coke and Pepsi in sales in its home country, and a spokeswoman once said the Swiss people are “almost as familiar with it as breast milk.” Still, the drink remains practically unknown throughout the rest of the world. Efforts in the early 2000s failed to introduce the drink as a “health food” product to Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, and today the Netherlands is the only country that seems to have embraced the product, drinking up 90 percent of Rivella’s foreign sales.
My assessment? The first sip was okay, mostly because I wasn’t told that it was made from milk. My boyfriend, equally unaware and severely lactose intolerant, was even more aghast when the key ingredient was announced to us. Needless to say, he steered clear of a second taste. I was a little reluctant to take another sip after hearing the news but had no complaints about the carbonated apple juice flavor. Besides milk, Rivella is made with lots of fruit and herbal extracts, and sources say that the filtration process used for the serum removes all the fats and proteins from the whey, making the soft drink rich in vitamins and minerals. Next time, I’ll probably try the version of Rivella with the yellow label, which is made with soy rather than dairy milk – it should be a little easier to stomach for both my boyfriend and me.
[Wikimedia photo by Parpan05]
One fun aspect of travel is discovering cool local brands. When I visited Peru back in 1998 I first learned of Inca Kola, a neon-yellow soda produced there. I was curious so I ordered some at a cafe. The waiter was surprised and delighted that I chose his nation’s drink over Coca-Cola and told me proudly that it was the only local soda that had a bigger market share in its home country than Coke.
He brought me my Inca Kola and I took a sip. It was wonderful, an ultrasweet bubblegum flavor that my girlfriend couldn’t stand but I immediately fell in love with. I brought two liters back with me on the plane and served it to all my friends.
Peruvians are pretty proud of this soda, and that’s reflected by its advertising, with lines like La bebida del Perú (“The drink of Peru”) and ¡Es nuestra! (“It’s ours”). Sadly, the Coca-Cola corporation got its global tentacles wrapped around Inca Kola in 1999 and it’s no longer a completely independent company. Several Peruvian-owned rival brands have since taken up the banner.
I haven’t seen Inca Kola much outside of Peru. Some Latino shops in the U.S. stock it under the name Golden Kola, but it can be hard to find. Today I discovered it here in Santander, Spain, under its own name. The local long-distance phone bank, where people use Skype for a small fee rather than racking up huge phone bills to South America, had it for sale. Strangely, the shop is owned by Pakistanis. Santander is pretty cosmopolitan for such a small city!
After I bought some I went next door to a Chinese-owned convenience store, generally called Chinos here because most convenience stores are owned by the Chinese. As I picked up some beer the owner asked me how much I paid for my Inca Kola. Turns out he sells it for five centimos less. Live and learn.
In many ways the world is getting smaller, and that can be a good thing.